After resting for a couple of nights at a hotel in Qilian we were ready to start our ascent on to the Tibetan plateau. Unbeknown to us at the time, it was actually the last proper town that we were going to see for quite some time, so it was just as well we had a rest day (to recover from our previous bike pushing/trekking marathon) and get fully restocked – especially with porridge for breakfast as bread was no longer readily available. Unfortunately, the whole town was being dug up and rebuilt, and power cuts were frequent – in 2 days there was only 3 hours worth of electricity! It must have been a regular occurrence as the hotel instantly provided candles and the town hummed to the sound of power generators that ran outside every shop. This lack of electricity and thus lighting, might have been the reason why Tim found a plaster in his evening meal at a restaurant. It must be hard to tell the differences between finger and pork when chopping in the dark!
The bikes outside a cafe – after a ‘lucky-dip’ on the mandarin menu, we ended up with scrambled egg soup! Continue reading →
China is a massive country. Too massive. Far too massive for us to cross by bike anyway, although we have met plenty of others giving it a go! (but not all successfully!) Our solution was a long distance coach followed by a two night train journey to take us around the enormous Taklmakan Desert and 2500km into the centre-north of the country. We had to use the services of our hostel in Kashgar to buy our train tickets as the booking system is ridiculously complicated, and in Mandarin. Our bikes were packed up and sent ahead using the China Railway Postal Service so we had to wave them goodbye with the hope of seeing them again a few days later in Zhangye. There is no room on the passenger trains for all the passengers, let alone excess luggage. Should you wish, you can buy “standing only” tickets – even for an overnight train – it seemed as though you just sleep in the aisle!!
Tim inspects the ‘Sleeping Buddha’ in Zhangye – One of the many solar collectors we saw…. get a brew on!
After 150km of perfect and quiet roads, the tarmac just stopped! Completely finished!
But the climbing still continued……, the only traffic was quarry lorries.
…. and super scenic camping spots – no facilities though!
As we were on a gravel road, we didn’t spot that the official road had turned off, and we spent a day pedalling towards a dead end and our highest point yet – how annoying! After resting for the night, we decided to ignore the local’s advice to turn around and we carried on to follow the track through a ‘valley’, taking the most direct route back to the road we should have been on.
The route got pretty knarley and we did quite a bit of bike trekking – not easy with fully loaded and very heavy tourers!
As we crossed over 4000m the “track” disappeared and turned into a bumpy rutted field. Progress was extremely slow and painful! The storm that had been following us all day eventually caught us up, and we were having to walk the bikes downhill, as it was definitely not rideable. The situation was getting pretty dire so there was no time to take photos… but imagine walking down a very steep and rocky riverbed stewn with boulders and a blizzard blowing in your face and you’ll be getting close.
At the main road we found an abandoned building so we set up the tent on it’s lee side, zipped up the canvas and put on our remaining clothes! (This photo was taking in the morning when the sun had come out!) China was living up to our expectations with it’s testing terrain and testing weather – although we were sure this was only a taster!
After relaxing for a few days in Kashgar (and adjusting ourself to the madness of China), we set off on a mini-trip to ride part of the Karakoram Highway – turning around well before we got to the Pakistan border! The scenery was stunning, hopefully some of these photos do it justice!
And so the climbing begins!
It felt odd to be cycling the wrong way (away from Beijing), fortunately we bumped into Nuno and Jo who we’d previously met at the hostel; riding as a 4 kept our spirits up and stoped us from turning for home!
Unfortunately the area is heavily mined and quarried, meaning lots of heavy trucks. Thankfully travelling uphill slowly and downhill even slower, although there was evidence of many accidents enroute.
Not all of the road is sealed! Prepare to be swamped by dust from other traffic!
At one of the many roadside markets. The children in this part of the world don’t wear nappies – the crotch/bum seam is left ‘open’…… yuk!
We rode up to 3600m – the daily thermal tailwind pushing us most of the way (and hindering us on the way back!)
The surreal scene of sand dunes edging up to the Kangxiwa Reservoir.
What else did they bury underwater?
At one of the many epic camping spots, Jo and Rebecca do the washing.
And still more climbing to reach the Lake, 7546m Mustagata in the background.
Lake Kala Kule
Camels! Camels! Camels!
Nuno and Jo’s bikes pose at our camp spot.
Time for a swim and a wash.. Tim was first in (again)
A lap of the lake and it was time to retrace our steps and head downhill.
Long sweeping downhill ahead!
The urge to get home kicked in… instead of stopping at 100km we mounted the lights and did 200km to get back to Kashgar! Epic distance never to be repeated! 4 days uphill, 1 day back!